FAQs > Miscellaneous Questions and Answers

Why don't the numbers in the table on pp. 300-301
of the book, Spiral Dynamics, add up to 100 percent?

The numbers do not total to 100% because it was not meant literally, nor was it based on actual data. It was intended only as an illustration and impression, not a report of any research findings. The numbers in all three columns were created to make a point about geopolitics. The word "estimated" heads the numerical column, though “wild-ass guess”—WAG—might be more appropriate.

The table should have been labeled so as to make that clearer. Totals of 111.2 percent, 107 percent and 107 percent, along with rounded-off numbers, were meant to indicate that it's symbolic, not an accurate representation of findings rooted in a well-gathered sample of Homo sapiens. The fact that it has been replicated, although without permission, is still regrettable.

Thus, an estimated population of 111.2 percent rather than something closer to 100 percent has been cited, and even reprinted, by people who don't notice the mistake, who try to cover it over with silly rationalizations rather than ask why the discrepancy exists, who are satisfied with the metaphor, or who suggest revisions to tweak the numbers to precision based on who knows what. The table was designed NOT to equal exactly 100 percent, since it was made-up numbers based on impressions in the first place, and to suggest otherwise would have been deceptive. However, being off a full 10 percent was just sloppy arithmetic that went uncorrected. 

There was actually a discussion between the co-authors as to the propriety of inserting numbers at all, much less to suggest a precise 100 percent, since they could be misconstrued as valid research findings rather than educated guesses. The idea would have been better presented without numbers as a graphical soft-edged pie chart, fuzzy bars or with overlapping waves more on the order of Dr. Graves' original diagrams to suggest general trends rather than imply precision which is not there.

The point of it was to compare population with consumption and influence in world affairs. The broad proportions were derived from United Nations and other information interpreted through the Spiral lens. There is no vast database from which detailed conclusions can yet be drawn about humankind, though various agencies and organizations like the World Watch Institute provide good information which suggests trends. Even efforts to gather broad samples of human kind via the Internet have a obvious design flaws, namely the requirements of literacy, access to computers, and willingness to participate in online studies which would skew any data gathered that way.

Furthermore, assessment of levels of psychological existence is very difficult since they form a constantly moving picture full of mixes and transition states, and instruments rarely get at how and why a person thinks what s/he reports. It's actually contrary to the theory to think that only eight categories would suffice to describe the complexities of human nature. Thus, the table is also a gross over-simplification that depicts generalizations as examples, though those generalizations are often useful starting points for further study.


Is "Flatland" a construct from Spiral Dynamics or Graves?
The terms "Flatland" and Flatlander have gotten wide play of late describing people who see a narrow world with few alternatives and unrecognized dimensions. They are sometimes used as a metaphor for closedness in Gravesian terms, and sometimes to suggest that failure to incorporate more spiritual elements (typically, those attractive to the pundit) is a serious deficiency.

The idea, hardly new or original, is derived from Edwin A. Abbott's wonderful 1884 publication, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, which is widely available on line. The little book is still an excellent read, and there is far more to it than a simple pejorative usage would suggest.


Is "Spiral Dynamics" a "Theory of Everything?"
As readers of this site know, the Spiral Dynamics book is an application and extension of Dr. Clare Graves's original thinking. It is no more a 'theory of everything' than his underlying work was, though some in pursuit of 'everything' theories have latched onto the Spiral model and incorporated bits of it into their approaches.

Back in 1967 Canadian journalist Nicholas Steed wrote an article about Dr. Graves's work titled "The Theory that Explains Everything" for the October issue of Maclean's Magazine. The piece begins with:

"Darwin invented one. So did Karl Marx. So did Freud and so, of course, did our own Marshall McLuhan. And now meet Clare Graves, a U.S. college professor who’s devised a theory that explains why China is belligerent, why hippies act so cool, and why you’re not getting along with your boss or mate."

It is obvious from Mr. Steed's opening that his view of a "theory of everything" is not an all-inclusive explanation for the origins of the universe, but a statement with sufficient explanatory power to pull a broad field into cohesion. In this case, it is human behavior. 

He goes on to quote Clare Graves as to why his theorizing came about:

"All my life...I've been confused and perplexed by the fact that on every damn subject there are so many schools of thought. Take psychology. The whole field is a battleground of contrasting theories: the Freudians don't agree with the Adlerians, the psychoanalysts won't talk to the behaviorists. The same's true of all of life. Man is so confused that he speaks of peace and then righteously makes war. We profess to care about poverty, but yet give the poor so little that they riot. We advocate religious tolerance, yet we disapprove of inter-faith marriages. Everywhere you look people are divided into rival factions, each group claiming that it is right and the others are wrong."

[Note:  Nicholas Steed's 1967 piece was written about the theory before the systems were differentiated into their final form. CP is not included; therefore, the numbering in the following passage is lower by one compared to later discussions. Additionally, the seven levels as described by Steed would be further differentiated as transitional states in later work such that his Four would be transitional DQ/ER stages, his Five transitional ER/FS, and his Six the FS to GT transition states. CP and B'O' were not yet included.] 

Specifics of terminology aside, Steed offers an example which makes some important points: 

"Graves cites the 'God is dead' theological debate as another instance of the change in levels at work. Thus the old religion was for Three [nodal DQ] and Fours [exiting DQ to entering ER]; the new approach is making headway with Fives [transitional ER to FS] because Fives will always go along with what the "experts" think best. The strong undercurrents of Three [DQ] thinking still at work in North America will continue for some time to provide the fundamentalist and dogmatic religions with flocks. Increasingly, though, the middle of the-road religions will change to Five thinking, and subscribe to the God is dead view. The most difficult change to make, says Graves, both for an individual or a nation is from Five to Six [entering FS through to GT]. "This is tough," he says, "because nothing is more frightening for a Five than to have to start thinking for himself. It's only when you get to be a Six [entering GT] that you start to see the world as it really is.""  

He also reports that: 

"...Graves noticed certain similarities between odd and even numbered levels. Odd numbered people, it appeared, were trying to adjust to their environment, while even numbered people were attempting to change it. At this point Graves noticed another phenomenon: there appeared to be a marked similarity between Ones and Sevens. Both were passive, both tended to a rather mystical type of thought, though on vastly different intellectual levels. Graves now believes Sevens may actually be Ones on a brand new ladder of levels, and that unlimited cycles of new levels may develop in the future."

The first part of this statement touches on the the cyclic nature of the theory - adjust to what is or to attempt to change it. (Graves also thought there might be a brain hemisphere dominance component to this, a question as yet unresolved.) The latter part addresses the much-promoted First Tier / Second Tier split, as well as suggesting good reason to remain skeptical about its importance or validity while pointing out the open-ended nature of the theory. 

In these Maclean's excerpts we can see the Gravesian approach described as an effort to understand how people think about a thing. Despite the title, it is not an attempt to find a total grand unification, but to approach a more cohesive view of human behavior and the how's and why's of our ongoing search for theories of everything. Even with add-on bits, that's also what our SPIRAL DYNAMICS® programs are about. 

Indeed, the need to find a singular truth and a 'master' explanation rings of the battles fought as the Enlightenment sought to break the bonds of absolutism and metaphysical certitude centuries ago. We are still engaged in those skirmishes between surety and ambiguity, between the authoritarian and the relative - all done as if they must be mutually exclusive rather than coincide.

Graves, himself, made no pretense of discovering the explanation for existence through his research. He always took such talk with a nudge and a wink, having seen so many others fall into the trap of allness illness and grandiose views of their own intellectual prowess. He was a student of human nature and behavior in its many forms. Applying his work to himself, he usually placed himself in the DQ-ER range seeking to break out. According to Steed's article:

"I was reared in a very severe Third level world," he says. "And that takes a lot of breaking out of. My problem is that which confronts most of us - to a certain extent I'm held in bondage by the conditions of my own existence. Once I can get the problems of my own financial security solved, and provide for my family, then I'll be able to start operating at a higher level. I'd dearly love to be a Six or a Seven but it's pretty tough when you're teaching for a living."

Thus, his work was descriptive rather than prescriptive. Graves did not pretend to embody anything more than a keen intellect and curiosity, and a "mind out of its time" in some respects. His model was drawn from messages embedded in his data, not inspiration. He was well aware of his own limitations and the existential conditions which shaped his working life. He wanted to resolve his own confusion and put the contradictions to rest by going a step beyond them - a meta-theory. Spiral Dynamics was written to illustrate possible applications and to popularize that point of view.

Today, we continue to see the quest for ultimate organizing principles and the theory which can pull everything together into oneness, the grand unified field. Indeed, the need for the answer - a singular truth - is a marker of existential levels which are still strong among us, old themes dressed up in contemporary outfits. Now, books and entire movements are organized around the drive to touch the infinite and expressions of those levels; and more will be forthcoming. Such a belief can be incredibly comforting, just as many find faith in eternal life makes the awareness of mortality tolerable. Yet, while efforts to turn the Spiral model and the Spiral Dynamics brand into a theory of everything are appealing to many, such goals contradict the open-ended nature of the point of view and stretch the work beyond it's limitations. 

The world of "Spiral Dynamics", itself, is presently conflicted and "...divided into rival factions, each group claiming that it is right and the others are wrong," just as Graves described things in 1967. Integration and differentiation are poised as if they were adversaries rather than cohabitants. Many are understandably "perplexed and confused," a condition which is not pleasant for those whose comfort rests with the absolute and the certain and whose search is for the answer to the meaning and purpose of life. 

For some, that is still simply called God or Allah or even paraphrased as "The Spiral". Such is the only answer needed - a 'theory of everything' can be encapsulated within a word or clear belief. For others, as they slide along the trajectory described above from Three toward Four and Five, the first step is to rediscover God-ness within the self as they consolidate scientific and intellectual gleanings, re-crafted on their own terms, in the ongoing contest to explain why we are as we are, once and for all. These tend to be 'theories of everything' framed in thousands of arcane words trying to prove the unprovable with certainty. The need for all of this is a curiosity, in itself.

In many ways the dynamics of the search do not change, but we do seem to slide ever so slowly toward new mindsets and fresh conceptions of what living is about, and toward tolerance for greater ambiguity and relativism, overall.

"...As he sets off on each quest, he believes he will find the answer to his existence, and as he settles into each nodal state he is certain he has found it. Yet, always to his surprise and ever to his dismay he finds, at every stage, that the solution to existence is not the solution he thinks he has found. Every state he reaches leaves him discontented and perplexed. It is simply that as he solves one set of human problems he finds a new set in their place. The quest he finds is never ending."  (Clare Graves, NEQ, p. 475)

Thus, the evolution of 'theories of everything' will be exciting to watch through the Graves/SD lens as each represents a set of human problems and the search for 'the' solution continues to reframe old answers as well as to evolve and broaden in new contexts. Ask how each try at a theory is being conceptualized, not how fanciful or complicated it is, and whether it finds simplicity which is not there or opens doors to fresh thinking. 


What does POA stand for?

POA is a model which encompasses three factors in what Dr. Graves described as the entry style for managers based on workplace studies.* The POA notion can be applied to leadership, as well, but was never intended as a marker of the "great leaders", only an important competent for anyone moving into a new situation. 

The four looping phases of management are entry, analysis, congruence, and growth. The entry phase requires that the new manager (or leader) moving into a situation sets a positive tone so s/he can get a quick feel for what's going on. This manager works to exhibit three things:  a degree of politeness (i.e., being decent, civil, respectful, and courteous), of openness (i.e., being informative, genuine, authentic, and engaged), and autocracy (i.e., willingness/capacity to be decisive, to be proactive, and to assume responsibility for the task s/he has taken on). Graves called this the entry style.

In our SPIRAL DYNAMICS® seminars, we teach this as "P-O-A". Think of a 3-legged stool. The legs need to be reasonably aligned to keep balance. If any is too long or too short, the stool topples. Very Aristotelian. Having the stool fall over is not invariably a bad thing, but it makes the next phases very difficult because POA sets a tone where phase 2 analysis can be accomplished and the persona of the manager doesn't interfere with assessment and observation of people and systems. Then follows phase 3, matching people, purpose, processes, etc., so that the work to be done and the people doing it are in sync - congruence. Then, according to the Graves theory, successful operation will most likely introduce new problems requiring new thinking. That's where phase 4 growth comes in to deal with the new conditions, potentially changed people, and systems that might need to be reshaped to fit altered conditions. Then it's back to entry - and emphasis on POA to engender stability and confidence. POA never goes away at any phase, but emphasizing it is critical to set the tone for entry, and to maintain a healthy culture.

Derived in "The Congruent Management Strategy" by Graves, Madden & Madden. 


Other questions:

How does Eric Berne's Transactional Analysis approach relate to the Spiral model and Gravesian theory? (link)


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